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[[Main Page | WWI Document Archive]] > [[Diaries, Memorials, Personal Reminiscences]] > [[The_Life_and_Letters_of_Walter_H._Page|Walter H. Page]] > '''Chapter V'''
[[Main Page | WWI Document Archive]] > [[Diaries, Memorials, Personal Reminiscences]] > [[The_Life_and_Letters_of_Walter_H._Page|Walter H. Page]] > '''Chapter V'''
Revision as of 02:14, 18 January 2009
THE London Embassy is the greatest diplomatic gift at the disposal of the President, and, in the minds of the American people, it possesses a glamour and an historic importance all its own. Page came to the position, as his predecessors had come, with a sense of awe; the great traditions of the office; the long line of distinguished men, from Thomas Pinckney to Whitelaw Reid, who had filled it; the peculiar delicacy of the problems that then existed between the two countries; the reverent respect which Page had always entertained for English history, English literature, and English public men---all these considerations naturally quickened the new ambassador's imagination and, at the same time, made his arrival in England a rather solemn event. Yet his first days in London had their grotesque side as well. He himself has recorded his impressions, and, since they contain an important lesson for the citizens of the world's richest and most powerful Republic, they should be preserved. When the ambassador of practically any other country reaches London, he finds waiting for him a spacious and beautiful embassy, filled with a large corps of secretaries and servants---everything ready, to the minutest detail, for the beginning of his labours. He simply enters these elaborate state-owned and state-supported quarters and starts work. How differently the mighty United States welcomes its ambassadors let Page's memorandum tell:
The boat touched at Queenstown, and a mass of Irish reporters came aboard and wished to know what I thought of Ireland. Some of them printed the important announcement that I was quite friendly to Ireland! At Liverpool was Mr. Laughlin, Chargé d'Affaires in London since Mr. Reid's death, to meet me, and of course the consul, Mr. Washington. . . . On our arrival in London, Laughlin explained that he had taken quarters for me at the Coburg Hotel, whither we drove, after having fought my way through a mob of reporters at the station. One fellow told me that since I left New York the papers had published a declaration by me that I meant to be very "democratic" and would under no conditions wear "knee breeches"; and he asked me about that report. I was foolish enough to reply that the existence of an ass in the United States ought not necessarily to require the existence of a corresponding ass in London. He printed that! I never knew the origin of this "knee breeches" story.
That residence at the Coburg Hotel for three months was a crowded and uncomfortable nightmare. The indignity and inconvenience---even the humiliation---of an ambassador beginning his career in an hotel, especially during the Court season, and a green ambassador at that! I hope I may not die before our Government does the conventional duty to provide ambassadors' residences.
The next morning I went to the Chancery (123, Victoria Street) and my heart sank. I had never in my life been in an American Embassy. I had had no business with them in Paris or in London on my previous visits. In fact I had never been in any embassy except the British Embassy at Washington. But the moment I entered that dark and dingy hall at 123, Victoria Street, between two cheap stores---the same entrance that the dwellers in the cheap flats above used---I knew that Uncle Sam had no fit dwelling there. And the Ambassador's room greatly depressed me---dingy with twenty-nine years of dirt and darkness, and utterly undignified. And the rooms for the secretaries and attachés were the little bedrooms, kitchen, etc., of that cheap flat; that's all it was. For the place we paid $1,500 a year. I did not understand then and I do not understand yet how Lowell, Bayard, Phelps, Hay, Choate, and Reid endured that cheap hole. Of course they stayed there only about an hour a day; but they sometimes saw important people there. And, whether they ever saw anybody there or not, the offices of the United States Government in London ought at least to be as good as a common lawyer's office in a country town in a rural state of our Union. Nobody asked for anything for an embassy: nobody got anything for an embassy. I made up my mind in ten minutes that I'd get out of this place. 
At the Coburg Hotel, we were very well situated; but the hotel became intolerably tiresome. Harold Fowler and Frank and I were there until W.A.W.P.  and Kitty  came (and Frances Clark came with them). Then we were just a little too big a hotel party. Every morning I drove down to the old hole of a Chancery and remained about two hours. There wasn't very much work to do; and my main business was to become acquainted with the work and with people---to find myself with reference to this task, with reference to official life and to London life in general.
Every afternoon people came to the hotel to see me---some to pay their respects and to make life pleasant, some out of mere curiosity, and many for ends of their own. I confess that on many days nightfall found me completely worn out. But the evenings seldom brought a chance to rest. The social season was. going at its full gait; and the new ambassador (any new ambassador) would have been invited to many functions. A very few days after my arrival, the Duchess of X invited Frank and me to dinner. The powdered footmen were the chief novelty of the occasion for us. But I was much confused because nobody introduced anybody to anybody else. If a juxtaposition, as at the dinner table, made an introduction imperative, the name of the lady next you was so slurred that you couldn't possibly understand it.
Party succeeded party. I went to them because they gave me a chance to become acquainted with people.
But very early after my arrival, I was of course summoned by the King. I had presented a copy of my credentials to the Foreign Secretary (Sir Edward Grey) and the real credentials---the original in a sealed envelope---I must present to His Majesty. One morning the King's Master of the Ceremonies, Sir Arthur Walsh, came to the hotel with the royal coaches, four or five of them, and the richly caparisoned grooms. The whole staff of the Embassy must go with me. We drove to Buckingham Palace, and, after waiting a few moments, I was ushered into the King's presence. He stood in one of the drawing rooms on the ground floor looking out on the garden. There stood with him in uniform Sir Edward Grey. I entered and bowed. He shook my hand, and I spoke my little piece of three or four sentences.
He replied, welcoming me and immediately proceeded to express his surprise and regret that a great and rich country like the United States had not provided a residence for its ambassadors. "It is not fair to an ambassador," said he; and he spoke most earnestly.
I reminded him that, although the lack of a home was an inconvenience, the trouble or discomfort that fell on an ambassador was not so bad as the wrong impression which I feared was produced about the United States and its Government, and I explained that we had had so many absorbing domestic tasks and, in general, so few absorbing foreign relations, that we had only begun to develop what might be called an international consciousness.
Sir Edward was kind enough the next time I saw him to remark that I did that very well and made a good impression on the King.
I could now begin my ambassadorial career proper---call on the other ambassadors and accept invitations to dinners and the like.
I was told after I came from the King's presence that the Queen would receive me in a few minutes. I was shown upstairs, the door opened, and there in a small drawing room, stood the Queen alone---a pleasant woman, very royal in appearance. The one thing that sticks in my memory out of this first conversation with her Majesty was her remark that she had seen only one man who had been President of the United States---Mr. Roosevelt. She hoped he was well. I felt moved to remark that she was not likely to see many former Presidents because the office was so hard a task that most of them did not long survive.
"I'm hoping that office will not soon kill the King,"
In time Page obtained an entirely adequate and dignified house at 6 Grosvenor Square, and soon found that the American Ambassadorship had compensations which were hardly suggested by his first glimpse of the lugubrious Chancery. He brought to this new existence his plastic and inquisitive mind, and his mighty gusto for the interesting and the unusual; he immensely enjoyed his meetings with the most important representatives of all types of British life. The period of his arrival marked a crisis in British history; Mr. Lloyd George was supposed to be taxing the aristocracy out of existence; Mr. Asquith was accused of plotting the destruction of the House of Lords; the tide of liberalism, even of radicalism, was running high, and, in the judgment of the conservative forces, England was tottering to its fall; the gathering mob was about to submerge everything that had made it great. And the Irish question had reached another crisis with the passage of the Home Rule Bill, which Sir Edward Carson was preparing to resist with his Irish "volunteers."
All these matters formed the staple of talk at dinner tables, at country houses and at the clubs; and Page found constant entertainment in the variegated pageant. There were important American matters to discuss with the Foreign Office---more important than any that had arisen in recent years---particularly Mexico, and the Panama Tolls. Before these questions are considered, however, it may be profitable to print a selection from the many letters which Page wrote during his first year, giving his impressions of this England which he had always loved and which a closer view made him love and admire still more. These letters have the advantage of presenting a frank and yet sympathetic picture of British society and British life as it was just before the war.
To Frank N. Doubleday
The Coburg Hotel,
Carlos Place, Grosvenor Square, London, W.
DEAR EFFENDI: 
You can't imagine the intensity of the party feeling here. I dined to-night in an old Tory family. They had just had a "division" an hour or two before in the House of Lords on the Home Rule Bill. Six Lords were at the dinner and their wives. One was a Duke, two were Bishops, and the other three were Earls. They expect a general "bust-up." If the King does so and so, off with the King! That's what they fear the Liberals will do. It sounds very silly to me; but you can't exaggerate their fear. The Great Lady, who was our hostess, told me, with tears in her voice, that she had suspended all social relations with the Liberal leaders.
At lunch---just five or six hours before---we were at the Prime Minister's, where the talk was precisely on the other side. Gladstone's granddaughter was there and several members of the Cabinet.
Somehow it reminds me of the tense days of the slavery controversy just before the Civil War.
Yet in the everyday life of the people, you hear nothing about it. It is impossible to believe that the ordinary man cares a fig!
Good-night. You don't care a fig for this. But I'll get time to write you something interesting in a little while.
W. H. P.
To Herbert S. Houston
Sunday, 24 Aug., 1913.
DEAR H. S. H.:
. . . You know there's been much discussion of the decadence of the English people. I don't believe a word of it. They have an awful slum, I hear, as everybody knows, and they have an idle class. Worse, from an equal-opportunity point-of-view, they have a very large servant-class, and a large class that depends on the nobility and the rich. All these are economic and social drawbacks. But they have always had all these---except that the slum has become larger in modern years. And I don't see or find any reason to believe in the theory of decadence. The world never saw a finer lot of men than the best of their ruling class. You may search the world and you may search history for finer men than Lord Morley, Sir Edward Grey, Mr. Harcourt, and other members of the present Cabinet. And I meet such men everywhere---gently bred, high-minded, physically fit, intellectually cultivated, patriotic. If the devotion to old forms and the inertia which makes any change almost impossible strike an American as out-of-date, you must remember that in the grand old. times of England, they had all these things and had them worse than they are now. I can't see that the race is breaking down or giving out. Consider how their political morals have been pulled up since the days of the rotten boroughs; consider how their court-life is now high and decent, and think what it once was. British trade is larger this year than it ever was, Englishmen are richer then they ever were and more of them are rich. They write and speak and play cricket, and govern, and fight as well as they have ever done---excepting, of course, the writing of Shakespeare.
Another conclusion that is confirmed the more you see of English life is their high art of living. When they make their money, they stop money-making and cultivate their minds and their gardens and entertain their friends and do all the high arts of living---to perfection. Three days ago a retired soldier gave a garden-party in my honour, twenty-five miles out of London. There was his historic house, a part of it 500 years old; there were his ten acres of garden, his lawn, his trees; and they walk with you over it all; they sit out-of-doors; they serve tea; they take life rationally; they talk pleasantly (not jocularly, nor story-telling); they abhor the smart in talk or in conduct; they have gentleness, cultivation, the best manners in the world; and they are genuine. The hostess has me take a basket and go with her while she cuts it full of flowers for us to bring home; and, as we walk, she tells the story of the place. She is a tenant-for-life; it is entailed. Her husband was wounded in South Africa. Her heir is her nephew. The home, of course, will remain in the family forever. No, they don't go to London much in recent years: why should they? But they travel a month or more. They give three big tea-parties---one when the rhododendrons bloom and the others at stated times. They have friends to stay with them half the time, perhaps---sometimes parties of a dozen. England never had a finer lot of folk than these. And you see them everywhere. The art of living sanely they have developed to as high a level, I think, as you will find at any time in any land.
The present political battle is fiercer than you would ever guess. The Lords feel that they are sure to be robbed: they see the end of the ordered world. Chaos and confiscation lie before them. Yet that, too, has nearly always been so. It was so in the Reform Bill days. Lord Morley said to me the other day that when all the abolitions had been done, there would be fewer things abolished than anybody hopes or fears, and that there would be the same problems in some form for many generations. I'm beginning to believe that the Englishman has always been afraid of the future---that's what's keeps him so alert. They say to me: "You have frightful things happen in the United States---your Governor of New York,(<A NAME="n16"></A><A HREF="Pagenotes.htm#16">16</A>) your Thaw case, your corruption, etc., etc.; and yet you seem sure and tell us that your countrymen feel sure of the safety of your government." In the newspaper comments on my Southampton(<A NAME="n17"></A><A HREF="Pagenotes.htm#17">17</A>) speech the other day, this same feeling cropped up; the American Ambassador assures us that the note of hope is the dominant note of the Republic---etc., etc. Yes, they are dull, in a way---not dull, so much as steady; and yet they have more solid sense than any other people.
It's an interesting study---the most interesting in the world. The genuineness of the courtesy, the real kindness and the hospitality of the English are beyond praise and without limit. In this they show a strange contradiction to their dickering habits in trade and their "unctuous rectitude" in stealing continents. I know a place in the world now where they are steadily moving their boundary line into other people's territory. I guess they really believe that the earth belongs to them.
W. H. P.
To Arthur W. Page(<A
Gordon Arms Hotel, Elgin, Scotland.
September 6, 1913.
Your mother and Kitty(<A NAME="n19"></A><A HREF="Pagenotes.htm#19">19</A>) and I are on our way to see Andy.(<A NAME="n20"></A><A HREF="Pagenotes.htm#20">20</A>) Had you any idea that to motor from London to Skibo means driving more than eight hundred miles? Our speedometer now shows more than seven hundred and we've another day to go---at least one hundred and thirty miles. And we haven't even had a tire accident. We're having a delightful journey---only this country yields neither vegetables nor fruits, and I have to live on oatmeal. They spell it p-o-r-r-i-d-g-e, and they call it puruge. But they beat all creation as carnivorous folk. We stayed last night at a beautiful mountain hotel at Braemar (the same town whereat Stevenson wrote "Treasure Island") and they had nine kinds of meat for dinner and eggs in three ways, and no vegetables but potatoes. But this morning we struck the same thin oatbread that you ate at Grandfather Mountain.
I've never understood the Scotch. I think they are, without doubt, the most capable race in the world---away from home. But how they came to be so and how they keep up their character and supremacy and keep breeding true needs explanation. As you come through the country, you see the most monotonous and dingy little houses and thousands of robust children, all dirtier than niggers. In the fertile parts of the country, the fields are beautifully cultivated---for Lord This-and-T'Other who lives in London and comes up here in summer to collect his rents and to shoot. The country people seem desperately poor. But they don't lose their robustness. In the solid cities---the solidest you ever saw, all being of granite---such as Edinburgh and Aberdeen, where you see the prosperous class, they look the sturdiest and most independent fellows you ever saw. As they grow old they all look like blue-bellied Presbyterian elders. Scotch to the marrow---everybody and everything seem---bare knees alike on the street and in the hotel with dress coats on, bagpipes---there's no sense in these things, yet being Scotch they live forever. The first men I saw early this morning on the street in front of the hotel were two weather-beaten old chaps, with Fray beards under their chins. "Guddddd Murrrrnnnggggg, Andy," said one. "Guddddd murrninggggg, Sandy," said the other; and they trudged on. They'd dethrone kings before they'd shave differently or drop their burrs and gutturals or cover their knees or cease lying about the bagpipe. And you can't get it out of the blood. Your mother(<A NAME="n21"></A><A HREF="Pagenotes.htm#21">21</A>) becomes provoked when I say these things, and I shouldn't wonder if you yourself resent them and break out quoting Burns. Now the Highlands can't support a population larger than the mountain counties of Kentucky. Now your Kentucky feud is a mere disgrace to civilization. But your Highland feud is celebrated in song and story. Every clan keeps itself together to this day by its history and by its plaid. At a turn in the road in the mountains yesterday, there stood a statue of Rob Roy painted every stripe to life. We saw his sword and purse in Sir Walter's house at Abbotsford. The King himself wore the kilt and one of the plaids at the last court ball at Buckingham Palace, and there is a man who writes his name and is called "The Macintosh of Macintosh," and that's a prouder title than the King's. A little handful of sheep-stealing bandits got themselves immortalized and heroized, and they are now all Presbyterian elders. They got their church "established" in Scotland, and when the King comes to Scotland, by Jehoshaphat! he is obliged to become a Presbyterian. Yet your Kentucky feudist---poor devil---he comes too late. The Scotchman has preempted that particular field of glory. And all such comparisons make your mother fighting mad. . .
W. H. P.
To the President
American Embassy, London.
October 25, 1913.
DEAR MR. PRESIDENT:
I am moved once in a while to write you privately, not about any specific piece of public business, but only, if I can, to transmit something of the atmosphere of the work here. And, since this is meant quite as much for your amusement as for any information it may carry, don't read it "in office hours."
The future of the world belongs to us. A man needs to live here, with two economic eyes in his head, a very little time to become very sure of this. Everybody will see it presently. These English are spending their capital, and it is their capital that continues to give them their vast power. Now what are we going to do with the leadership of the world presently when it clearly falls into our hands?(<A NAME="n22"></A><A HREF="Pagenotes.htm#22">22</A>) And how can we use the English for the highest uses of democracy?
You see their fear of an on-sweeping democracy in their social treatment of party opponents. A Tory lady told me with tears that she could no longer invite her Liberal friends to her house: "I have lost them---they are robbing us, you know." I made the mistake of saying a word in praise of Sir Edward Grey to a duke. "Yes, yes, no doubt an able man; but you must understand, sir, that I don't train with that gang." A bishop explained to me at elaborate length why the very monarchy is doomed unless something befalls Lloyd George and his programme. Every dinner party is made up with strict reference to the party politics of the guests. Sometimes you imagine you see something like civil war; and money is flowing out of the Kingdom into Canada in the greatest volume ever known and I am told that a number of old families are investing their fortunes in African lands.
These and such things are, of course, mere chips which show the direction the slow stream runs. The great economic tide of the century flows our way. We shall have the big world questions to decide presently. Then we shall need world policies; and it will be these old-time world leaders that we shall then have to work with, more closely than now.
The English make a sharp distinction between the American people and the American Government---a distinction that they are conscious of and that they themselves talk about. They do not think of our people as foreigners. I have a club book on my table wherein the members are classified as British, Colonial, American, and Foreign---quite unconsciously. But they do think of our Government as foreign, and as a frontier sort of thing without good manners or good faith. This distinction presents the big task of implanting here a real respect for our Government. People often think to compliment the American Ambassador by assuming that he is better than his Government and must at times be ashamed of it. Of course the Government never does this---never---but persons in unofficial life; and I have sometimes hit some hard blows under this condescending provocation. This is the one experience that I have found irritating. They commiserate me on having a Government that will not provide an Ambassador's residence---from the King to my servants. They talk about American lynchings. Even the Spectator, in an early editorial about you, said that we should now see what stuff there is in the new President by watching whether you would stop lynchings. They forever quote Bryce on the badness of our municipal government. They pretend to think that the impeachment of governors is common and ought to be commoner. One delicious M. P. asked me: "Now, since the Governor of New York is impeached, who becomes Vice-President?"(<A NAME="n23"></A><A HREF="Pagenotes.htm#23">23</A>) Ignorance, unfathomable ignorance, is at the bottom of much of it; if the Town Treasurer of Yuba Dam gets a $100 "rake off" on a paving contract, our city government is a failure.
I am about to conclude that our yellow press does us more harm abroad than at home, and many of the American correspondents of the English papers send exactly the wrong news. The whole governing class of England has a possibly exaggerated admiration for the American people and something very like contempt for the American Government.
If I make it out right two causes (in addition to their ignorance) of their dislike of our Government are (1) its lack of manners in the past, and (2) its indiscretions of publicity about foreign affairs. We ostentatiously stand aloof from their polite ways and courteous manners in many of the every-day, ordinary, unimportant dealings with them---aloof from the common amenities of long-organized political life. . . .
Not one of these things is worth mentioning or remembering. But generations of them have caused our Government to be regarded as thoughtless of the fine little acts of life---as rude. The more I find out about diplomatic customs and the more I hear of the little-big troubles of others, the more need I find to be careful about details of courtesy.
Thus we are making as brave a show as becomes us. I no longer dismiss a princess after supper or keep the whole diplomatic corps waiting while I talk to an interesting man till the Master of Ceremonies comes up and whispers: "Your Excellency, I think they are waiting for you to move." But I am both young and green, and even these folk forgive much to green youth, if it show a willingness to learn.
But our Government, though green, isn't young enough to plead its youth. It is time that it, too, were learning Old World manners in dealing with Old World peoples. I do not know whether we need a Bureau, or a Major-Domo, or a Master of Ceremonies at Washington, but we need somebody to prompt us to act as polite as we really are, somebody to think of those gentler touches that we naturally forget. Some other governments have such officers---perhaps all. The Japanese, for instance, are newcomers in world politics. But this Japanese Ambassador and his wife here never miss a trick; and they come across the square and ask us how to do it! All the other governments, too, play the game of small courtesies to perfection---the French, of course, and the Spanish and---even the old Turk.
Another reason for the English distrust of our Government is its indiscretions in the past of this sort: one of our Ministers to Germany, you will recall, was obliged to resign because the Government at Washington inadvertently published one of his confidential despatches; Griscom saved his neck only by the skin, when he was in Japan, for a similar reason. These things travel all round the world from one chancery to another and all governments know them. Yesterday somebody in Washington talked about my despatch summarizing my talk with Sir Edward Grey about Mexico, and it appeared in the papers here this morning that Sir Edward had told me that the big business interests were pushing him hard. This I sent as only my inference. I had at once to disclaim it. This leaves in his mind a doubt about our care for secrecy. They have monstrous big doors and silent men in Downing Street; and, I am told, a stenographer sits behind a big screen in Sir Edward's room while an Ambassador talks!(<A NAME="n24"></A><A HREF="Pagenotes.htm#24">24</A>) I wonder if my comments on certain poets, which I have poured forth there to provoke his, are preserved in the archives of the British Empire. The British Empire is surely very welcome to them. I have twice found it useful, by the way, to bring up Wordsworth when he has begun to talk about Panama tolls. Then your friend Canon Rawnsley(<A NAME="n25"></A><A HREF="Pagenotes.htm#25">25</A>) has, without suspecting it, done good service in diplomacy.
The newspaper men here, by the way, both English and American, are disposed to treat us fairly and to be helpful. The London Times, on most subjects, is very friendly, and I find its editors worth cultivating for their own sakes and because of their position. It is still the greatest English newspaper. Its general friendliness to the United States, by the way, has started a rumour that I hear once in a while---that it is really owned by Americans---nonsense yet awhile. To the fairness and helpfulness of the newspaper men there are one or two exceptions, for instance, a certain sneaking whelp who writes for several papers. He went to the Navy League dinner last night at which I made a little speech. When I sat down, he remarked to his neighbour, with a yawn, "Well, nothing in it for me. The Ambassador, I am afraid, said nothing for which I can demand his recall." They, of course, don't care thrippence about me; it's you they hope to annoy.
Then after beating them at their own game of daily little courtesies, we want a fight with them---a good stiff fight about something wherein we are dead right, to remind them sharply that we have sand in our craw.(<A NAME="n26"></A><A HREF="Pagenotes.htm#26">26</A>) I pray every night for such a fight; for they like fighting men. Then they'll respect our Government as they already respect us---if we are dead right.
But I've little hope for a fight of the right kind with Sir Edward Grey. He is the very reverse of insolent---fair, frank, sympathetic, and he has so clear an understanding of our real character that he'd yield anything that his party and Parliament would permit. He'd make a good American with the use of very little sandpaper. Of course I know him better than I know any other member of the Cabinet, but he seems to me the best-balanced man of them all.
1 can assure you emphatically that the tariff act(<A NAME="n27"></A><A HREF="Pagenotes.htm#27">27</A>) does command their respect and is already having an amazing influence on their opinion of our Government. Lord Mersey, a distinguished law lord and a fine old fellow of the very best type of Englishman, said to me last Sunday, "I wish to thank you for stopping half-way in reducing your tariff; that will only half ruin us." A lady of a political family (Liberal) next whom I sat at dinner the other night (and these women know their politics as no class of women among us do) said: "Tell me something about your great President. We hadn't heard much about him nor felt his hand till your tariff bill passed. He seems to have real power in the Government. You know we do not always know who has power in your Government." Lord Grey, the one-time Governor-General of Canada, stopped looking at the royal wedding presents the other evening long enough to say: "The United States Government is waking up---waking up."
I sum up these atmospheric conditions---I do not presume to call them by so definite a name as recommendations:
We are in the international game---not in its Old World intrigues and burdens and sorrows and melancholy, but. in the inevitable way to leadership and to cheerful mastery in the future; and everybody knows that we are in it but us. It is a sheer blind habit that causes us to continue to try to think of ourselves as aloof. They think in terms of races here, and we are of their race, and we shall become the strongest and the happiest branch of it.
While we play the game with them, we shall play it better by playing it under their long-wrought-out rules of courtesy in everyday affairs.
We shall play it better, too, if our Government play it quietly---except when the subject demands publicity. I have heard that in past years the foreign representatives of our Government have reported too few things and much too meagrely. I have heard since I have been here that these representatives become timid because Washington has for many a year conducted its foreign business too much in the newspapers; and the foreign governments themselves are always afraid of this.
Meantime I hardly need tell you of my appreciation of such a chance to make so interesting a study and to enjoy so greatly the most interesting experience, I really believe, in the whole world. I only hope that in time I may see how to shape the constant progression of incidents into a constructive course of events; for we are soon coming into a time of big changes.
Most heartily yours,
WALTER H. PAGE.
To David F. Houston(<A
American Embassy, London [undated].
You're doing the bigger job: as the world now is, there is no other job so big as yours or so well worth doing; but I'm having more fun. I'm having more fun than anybody else anywhere. It's a large window you look through on the big world---here in London; and, while I am for the moment missing many of the things that I've most cared about hitherto (such as working for the countryman, guessing at American public opinion, coffee that's fit to drink, corn bread, sunshine, and old faces) big new things come on the horizon. Yet a man's personal experiences are nothing in comparison with the large job that our Government has to do in its Foreign Relations. I'm beginning to begin to see what it is. The American people are taken most seriously here. I'm sometimes almost afraid of the respect and even awe in which they hold us. But the American Government is a mere joke to them. They don't even believe that we ourselves believe in it. We've had no foreign policy, no continuity of plan, no matured scheme, no settled way of doing things and we seem afraid of Irishmen or Germans or some "element" when a chance for real action comes. I'm writing to the President about this and telling him stories to show how it works.
We needn't talk any longer about keeping aloof. If Cecil Spring Rice would tell you the complaints he has already presented and if you saw the work that goes on here---more than in all the other posts in Europe---you'd see that all the old talk about keeping aloof is Missouri buncombe. We're very much "in," but not frankly in.
I wish you'd keep your eye on these things in cabinet meetings. The English and the whole English world are ours, if we have the courtesy to take them---fleet and trade and all; and we go on pretending we are afraid of "entangling alliances." What about disentangling alliances?
We're in the game. There's no use in letting a few wild Irish or cocky Germans scare us. We need courtesy and frankness, and the destinies of the world will be in our hands. They'll fall there anyhow after we are dead; but I wish to see them come, while my own eyes last. Don't you?
W. H. P.
To Robert N. Page(<A
London, December 22, 1913.
MY DEAR BOB:
. . . We have a splendid, big old house---not in any way pretentious---a commonplace house in fact for fashionable London and the least showy and costly of the Embassies. But it does very well---it's big and elegantly plain and dignified. We have fifteen servants in the house. They do just about what seven good ones would do in the United States, but they do it a great deal better. They pretty nearly run themselves and the place. The servant question is admirably solved here. They divide the work according to a fixed and unchangeable system and they do it remarkably well---in their own slow English way. We simply let them alone, unless something important happens to go wrong. Katharine simply tells the butler that we'll have twenty-four people to dinner to-morrow night and gives him a list of them. As they come in, the men at the door address every one correctly---Your Lordship or Your Grace, or what not. When they are all in, the butler comes to the reception room and announces dinner. We do the rest. As every man goes out, the butler asks him if he'll have a glass of water or of grog or a cigar; he calls his car, puts him in it, and that's the end of it. Bully good plan. But in the United States that butler, whose wages are less than the ramshackle nigger I had at Garden City to keep the place neat, would have a business of his own. But here he is a sort of duke downstairs. He sits at the head of the servants' table and orders them around and that's worth more than money to an Old World servile mind.
The "season" doesn't begin till the King comes back and Parliament opens, in February. But every kind of club and patriotic and educational organization is giving its annual dinner now. I've been going to them and making after-dinner speeches to get acquainted and also to preach into them some little knowledge of American ways and ideals. They are very nice---very. You could not suggest or imagine any improvement in their kindness and courtesy. They do all these things in some ways better than we. They have more courtesy. They make far shorter speeches. But they do them all too much alike. Still they do get much pleasure out of them and much instruction too.
Then we are invited to twice as many private dinners and luncheons as we can attend. At these, these people are at their best. But it is yet quite confusing. A sea of friendly faces greets you---you can't remember the names. Nobody ever introduces anybody to anybody; and if by accident anybody ever tries, he simply says---"Uh-o-oh-Lord Xzwwxkmpt." You couldn't understand it if you had to be hanged.
But we are untangling some of this confusion and coming to make very real and very charming friends.
About December 20, everybody who is anybody leaves London. They go to their country places for about a fortnight or they go to the continent. Almost everything stops. It has been the only dull time at the Embassy that I've had. Nothing is going on now. But up to two days ago, it kept a furious gait. I'm glad of a little rest.
Dealing with the Government doesn't present the difficulties that I feared. Sir Edward Grey is in the man responsible for the ease with which it is done. He is a frank and fair and truthful man. You will find him the day after to-morrow precisely where you left him the day before yesterday. We get along very well indeed. I think we should get along if we had harder tasks one with the other. And the English people are even more friendly than the Government. You have no idea of their respect for the American Nation. Of course there is much ignorance, sometimes of a surprising sort. Very many people, for instance, think that all the Americans are rich. A lady told me the other night how poor she is---she is worth only $1,250,000---"nothing like all you Americans." She was quite sincere. In fact the wealth of the world (and the poverty, too) is centred here in an amazing way. You can't easily take it in---how rich or how many rich English families there are. They have had wealth for generation after generation, and the surprising thing is, they take care of it. They spend enormously---seldom ostentatiously---but they are more than likely to add some of their income every year to their principal. They have better houses in town and in the country than I had imagined. They spend vast fortunes in making homes in which they expect to live forever---generation after generation.
To an American democrat the sad thing is the servile class. Before the law the chimney sweep and the peer have exactly the same standing. They have worked that out with absolute justice. But there it stops. The serving class is what we should call abject. It does not occur to them that they might ever become---or that their descendants might ever become---ladies and gentlemen.
The "courts". are a very fine sight. The diplomatic ladies sit on a row of seats on one side the throne room, the Duchesses on a row opposite. The King and Queen sit on a raised platform with the royal family. The Ambassadors come in first and bow and the King shakes hands with them. Then come the forty or more Ministers---no shake for them. In front of the King are a few officers in gaudy uniform, some Indians of high rank (from India) and the court officials are all round about, with pages who hold up the Queen's train. Whenever the Queen and King move, two court officials back before them, one carrying a gold stick and the other a silver stick.
The ladies to be presented come along. They curtsy to the King, then to the Queen, and disappear in the rooms farther on. The Ambassadors (all in gaudy uniforms but me) stand near the throne---stand through the whole performance. One night after an hour or two of ladies coming along and curtsying and disappearing, I whispered to the Spanish Ambassador, "There must be five hundred of these ladies." "U-m," said he, as he shifted his weight to the other foot, "I'm sure there are five thousand!" When they've all been presented, the King and Queen go into a room where a stand-up supper is served. The royalty and the diplomatic folks go into that room, too; and their Majesties walk around and talk with whom they please. Into another and bigger room everybody else goes and gets supper. Then we all flock back to the throne room; and preceded by the backing courtiers, their Majesties come out into the floor and bow to the Ambassadors, then to the Duchesses, then to the general diplomatic group and they go out. The show is ended. We come downstairs and wait an hour for our car and come home about midnight. The uniforms on the men and the jewels on the ladies (by the ton) and their trains---all this makes a very brilliant spectacle. The American Ambassador and his Secretaries and the Swiss and the Portuguese are the only ones dressed in citizens' clothes.
At a levee, the King receives only gentlemen. Here they come in all kinds of uniforms. If you are not entitled to wear a uniform, you have a dark suit, knee breeches, and a funny little tin sword. I'm going to adopt the knee breeches part of it for good when I go home---golf breeches in the day time and knee breeches at night. You've no idea how nice and comfortable they are---though it is a devil of a lot of trouble to put 'em on. Of course every sort of man here but the Americans wears some sort of decorations around his neck or on his stomach, at these functions. For my part, I like it---here. The women sparkle with diamonds, the men strut; the King is a fine man with a big bass voice and he talks very well and is most agreeable; the Queen is very gracious; the royal ladies (Queen Victoria's daughters, chiefly) are nice; you see all the big Generals and all the big Admirals and the great folk of every sort---fine show.
You've no idea how much time and money they spend on shooting. the King has been shooting most of the time for three months. He's said to be a very good shot. He has sent me, on different occasions, grouse, a haunch of venison, and pheasants.
But except on these occasions, you never think about the King. The people go about their business as if he didn't exist, of course. They begin work much later than we do. You'll not find any of the shops open till about ten o'clock. The sun doesn't shine except once in a while and you don't know it's daylight till about ten. You know the House of Commons has night sessions always. Nobody is in the Government offices, except clerks and secretaries, till the afternoon. We dine at eight, and, when we have a big dinner, at eight thirty.
I like these people (most of 'em) immensely. They are very genuine and frank, good fighters and folk of our own sort---after you come to know them. At first they have no manners and don't know what to do. But they warm up to you later. They have abundant wit, but much less humour than we. And they know how to live.
Except that part of life which is ministered to in mechanical ways, they resist conveniences. They don't really like bathrooms yet. They prefer great tin tubs, and they use bowls and pitchers when a bathroom is next door. The telephone---Lord deliver us!---I've given it up. They know nothing about it. (It is a government concern, but so are the telegraph and the post office, and they are remarkably good and swift.) You can't buy a newspaper on the street, except in the afternoon. Cigar-stores are as scarce as hen's teeth. Barber-shops are all "hairdressers"---dirty and wretched beyond description. You can't get a decent pen; their newspapers are as big as tablecloths. In this aquarium in which we live (it rains every day) they have only three vegetables and two of them are cabbages. They grow all kinds of fruit in hothouses, and (I can't explain this) good land in admirable cultivation thirty miles from London sells for about half what good corn land in Iowa brings. Lloyd George has scared the land-owners to death.
Party politics runs so high that many Tories will not invite Liberals to dinner. They are almost at the point of civil war. I asked the Prime Minister the other day how he was going to prevent war. He didn't give any clear answer. During this recess of Parliament, though there's no election pending, all the Cabinet are all the time going about making speeches on Ireland. They talk to me about it.
"What would you do?"
"Send 'em all to the United States," say I.
They have had the Irish question three hundred years and they wouldn't be happy without it. One old Tory talked me deaf abusing the Liberal Government.
"You do this way in the United States---hate one another, don't you?"
"No," said I, "we live like angels in perfect harmony except a few weeks before election."
"The devil you do! You don't hate one another? What do you do for enemies? I couldn't get along without enemies to swear at."
If you think it's all play, you fool yourself; I mean this job. There's no end of the work. It consists of these parts: Receiving people for two hours every day, some on some sort of business, some merely "to pay respects," attending to a large (and exceedingly miscellaneous) mail; going to the Foreign Office on all sorts of errands; looking up the oddest assortment of information that you ever heard of; making reports to Washington on all sorts of things; then the so-called social duties---giving dinners, receptions, etc., and attending them. I hear the most important news I get at so-called social functions. Then the court functions; and the meetings and speeches! The American Ambassador must go all over England and explain every American thing. You'd never recover from the shock if you could hear me speaking about Education, Agriculture, the observance of Christmas, the Navy, the Anglo-Saxon, Mexico, the Monroe Doctrine, Co-education, Woman Suffrage, Medicine, Law, Radio-Activity, Flying, the Supreme Court, the President as a Man of letters, Hookworm, the Negro---just get down the Encyclopaedia and continue the list. I've done this every week-night for a month, hand running, with a few afternoon performances thrown in! I have missed only one engagement in these seven months; and that was merely a private luncheon. I have been late only once. I have the best chauffeur in the world---he deserves credit for much of that. Of course, I don't get time to read a book. In fact, I can't keep up with what goes on at home. To read a newspaper eight or ten days old, when they come in bundles of three or four---is impossible. What isn't telegraphed here, I miss; and that means I miss most things.
I forgot, there are a dozen other kinds of activities, such as American marriages, which they always want the Ambassador to attend; getting them out of jail, when they are jugged (I have an American woman on my hands now, whose four children come to see me every day); looking after the American insane; helping Americans move the bones of their ancestors; interpreting the income-tax law; receiving medals for Americans; hearing American fiddlers, pianists, players; sitting for American sculptors and photographers; sending telegrams for property owners in Mexico; reading letters from thousands of people who have shares in estates here; writing letters of introduction; getting tickets to the House Gallery; getting seats in the Abbey; going with people to this and that and t'other; getting tickets to the races, the art-galleries, the House of Lords; answering fool questions about the United States put by Englishmen. With a military attaché, a naval attaché, three secretaries, a private secretary, two automobiles, Alice's private secretary, a veterinarian, an immigration agent, consuls everywhere, a despatch agent, lawyers, doctors, messengers---they keep us all busy. A woman turned up dying the other day. I sent for a big doctor. She got well. As if that wasn't enough, both the woman and the doctor had to come and thank me (fifteen minutes each). Then each wrote a letter! Then there are people who are going to have a Fair here; others who have a Fair coming on at San Francisco; others at San Diego; secretaries and returning and outgoing diplomats come and go (lunch for 'em all); niggers come up from Liberia; Rhodes Scholars from Oxford; Presidential candidates to succeed Huerta; people who present books; women who wish to go to court; Jews who are excited about Rumania; passports, passports to sign; peace committees about the hundred years of peace; opera singers going to the United States; artists who have painted some American's portrait---don't you see? I haven't said a word about reporters and editors: the city's full of them.
A Happy New Year.
To Ralph W. Page(<A
London, December 23, 1913.
. . . The game is pretty much as it has been. I can't think of any new kinds of things to write you. The old kinds simply multiply and repeat themselves. But we are beginning now really to become acquainted, and some life friendships will grow out of our experience. And there's no doubt about its being instructive. I get glimpses of the way in which great governments deal with one another, in ways that our isolated, and, therefore, safe government seldom has any experience of. For instance, one of the Lords of the Admiralty told me the other night that he never gets out of telephone reach of the office---not even half an hour. "The Admiralty," said he, "never sleeps." He has a telephone by his bed which he can hear at any moment in the night. I don't believe that they really expect the German fleet to attack them any day or night. But they would not be at all surprised if it did so to-night. They talk all the time of the danger and of the probability of war; they don't expect it; but most wars have come without warning, and they are all the time prepared to begin a fight in an hour.
They talk about how much Germany must do to strengthen her frontier against Russia and her new frontier on the Balkan States. They now have these problems in hand and therefore they are for the moment not likely to provoke a fight. But they might.
It is all pitiful to see them thinking forever about danger and defense. The controversy about training boys for the army never ends. We don't know in the United States what we owe to the Atlantic Ocean---safe separation from all these troubles. . . .
But I've often asked both Englishmen and Americans in a dining room where there were many men of each country, whether they could look over the company and say which were English and which were Americans. Nobody can tell till---they begin to talk.
The ignorance of the two countries, each of the other, is beyond all belief. A friend of Kitty's---an American---received a letter from the United States yesterday. The maid noticed the stamp, which had the head of George Washington on it. Every stamp in this kingdom bears the image of King George. She asked if the American stamp had on it the head of the American Ambassador! I've known far wiser people to ask far more foolish questions.
W. H. P.
To Mrs. Ralph W. Page
London, Christmas-is-coming, 1913.
MY DEAR LEILA:
. . . Her work [Mrs. Walter H. Page's] is all the work of going and receiving and---of reading. She reads incessantly and enormously; and, when she gets tired, she goes to bed. That's all there is about it. Lord! I wish I could. But, when I get tired, I have to go and make another speech. They think the American Ambassador has omniscience for a foible and oratory as a pastime.
In some ways my duties are very instructive. We get different points of view on many things, some better than we had before had, some worse. For instance, life is pretty well laid out here in water-tight compartments; and you can't let a stream in from one to another without danger of sinking the ship. Four reporters have been here to-day because Mr. and Mrs. Sayre(<A NAME="n31"></A><A HREF="Pagenotes.htm#31">31</A>) arrived this morning. Every one of 'em asked the same question, "Who met them at the station?" That's the chief thing they wished to know. When I said "I did"---that fixed the whole thing on the highest peg of dignity. They could classify the whole proceeding properly, and they went off happy. Again: You've got to go in to dinner in the exact order prescribed by the constitution; and, if you avoid that or confuse that, you'll never be able to live it down. And so about Government, Literature, Art---everything. Don't you forget your water-tight compartments. If you do, you are gone! They have the same toasts at every public dinner. One is to "the guests." Now you needn't say a word about the guests when you respond. But they've been having toasts to the guests since the time of James I and they can't change it. They had me speak to "the guests" at a club last night, when they wanted me to talk about Mexico! The winter has come---the winter months at least. But they have had no cold weather---not so cold as you have in Pinehurst. But the sun has gone out to sea---clean gone. We never see it. A damp darkness (semi-darkness at least) hangs over us all the time. But we manage to feel our way about.
A poor photograph goes to you for Xmas---a poor thing enough surely. But you get Uncle Bob(<A NAME="n32"></A><A HREF="Pagenotes.htm#32">32</A>) busy on the job of paying for an Ambassador's house. Then we'll bring Christmas presents home for you. What a game we are playing, we poor folks here, along with Ambassadors whose governments pay them four times what ours pays. But we don't give the game away, you bet! We throw the bluff with a fine, straight poker face.
W. H. P.
To Frank N. Doubleday and
London, Sunday, December 28,1913.
MY DEAR COMRADES:
I was never one of those abnormal creatures who got Christmas all ready by the Fourth of July. The true spirit of the celebration has just now begun to work on me ---three days late. In this respect the spirit is very like Christmas plum-pudding. Moreover, we've just got the patriotic fervour flowing at high tide this morning. This is the President's birthday. We've put up the Stars and Stripes on the roof; and half an hour ago the King's Master of Ceremonies drove up in a huge motor car and, being shown into my presence in the state drawing room, held his hat in his hand and (said he):
"Your Excellency: I am commanded by the King to express to you His Majesty's congratulations on the birthday of the President, to wish him a successful administration and good health and long life and to convey His Majesty's greetings to Your Excellency; and His Majesty commands me to express the hope that you will acquaint the President with His Majesty's good wishes."
Whereto I made just as pretty a little speech as your 'umble sarvant could. Then we sat down, I called in Mrs. Page and my secretary and we talked like human beings.
Having worked like the devil, upon whom, I imagine, at this bibulous season many heavy duties fall---having thus toiled for two months---the international docket is clean, I've got done a round of twenty-five speeches (O Lord!) I've slept three whole nights, I've made my dinner-calls---you see I'm feeling pretty well, in this first period of quiet life I've yet found in this Babylon. Praise Heaven! they go off for Christmas. Everything's shut up tight. The streets of London are as lonely and as quiet as the road to Oyster Bay while the Oyster is in South America. It's about as mild here as with you in October and as damp as Sheepshead's Bay in an autumn storm. But such people as you meet complain of the c-o-l-d----the c-o-l-d; and they run into their heatless houses and put on extra waistcoats and furs and throw shawls over their knees and curse Lloyd George and enjoy themselves. They are a great people ---even without mint juleps in summer or eggnog in winter; and I like them. The old gouty Lords curse the Americans for the decline of drinking. And you can't live among them without laughing yourself to death and admiring them, too. It's a fine race to be sprung from.
All this field of international relations---you fellows regard it as a bore. So it used to be before my entrance into the game! But it's everlastingly interesting. Just to give him a shock, I asked the Foreign Secretary the other day what difference it would make if the Foreign Offices were all to go out of business and all the Ambassadors were to be hanged. He thought a minute and said: "Suppose war kept on in the Balkans, the Russians killed all their Jews, Germany took Holland and sent an air-fleet over London, the Japanese landed in California, the English took all the oil-wells in Central and South America and---"
"Good Lord!" said I, "do you and I prevent all these calamities? If so, we don't get half the credit that is due us---do we?"
"You could ask the same question about any group or profession of men in the world; and on a scratch, I imagine that any of them would be missed less than they think. But the realness and the bigness of the job here in London is simply oppressive. We don't even know what it is in the United States and, of course, we don't go about doing it right. If we did, we shouldn't pick up a green fellow on the plain of Long Island and send him here; we'd train the most capable male babies we have from the cradle. But this leads a long way.
As I look back over these six or seven months, from the pause that has come this week, I'm bound to say (being frank, not to say vain) that I had the good fortune to do one piece of work that was worth the effort and worth coming to do-about that infernal Mexican situation. An abler man would have done it better; but, as it was, I did it; and I have a most appreciative letter about it from the President.
By thunder, he's doing his job, isn't he? Whether you like the job or not, you've got to grant that. When I first came over here. I found a mild curiosity about Wilson---only mild. But now they sit up and listen and ask most eager questions. He has pressed his personality most strongly on the governing class here.
W. H. P.
To the President
American Embassy, London
[May 11, 1914]
DEAR MR. PRESIDENT:
The King of Denmark (I always think of Hamlet) having come to make his royal kinsman of these Isles a visit, his royal kinsman to-night gave a state dinner at the palace whereto the Ambassadors of the eight Great Powers were, of course, invited. Now I don't know how other kings do, but I'm willing to swear by King George for a job of this sort. The splendour of the thing is truly regal and the friendliness of it very real and human; and the company most uncommon. Of course the Ambassadors and their wives were there, the chief rulers of the Empire and men and women of distinction and most of the royal family. The dinner and the music and the plate and the decorations and the jewels and the uniforms----all these were regal; but there is a human touch about it that seems almost democratic.
All for His Majesty of Denmark, a country with fewer people and less wealth than New Jersey. This whole royal game is most interesting. Lloyd George and H. H. Asquith and John Morley were there, all in white knee-breeches of silk, and swords and most gaudy coats---these that are the radicals of the Kingdom, in literature and in action. Veterans of Indian and South African wars stood on either side of every door and of every stairway, dressed as Sir Walter Raleigh dressed, like so many statues, never blinking an eye. Every person in the company is printed, in all the papers, with every title he bears. Crowds lined the streets in front of the palace to see the carriages go in and to guess who was in each. To-morrow the Diplomatic Corps calls on King Christian and to-morrow night King George commands us to attend the opera as his guests.
Whether it's the court, or the honours and the orders and all the social and imperial spoils, that keep the illusion up, or whether it is the Old World inability to change anything, you can't ever quite decide. In Defoe's time they put pots of herbs on the desks of every court in London to keep the plague off. The pots of herbs are yet put on every desk in every court room in London. Several centuries ago somebody tried to break into the Bank of England. A special guard was detached---a little company of soldiers---to stand watch at night. The bank has twice been moved and is now housed in a building that would stand a siege; but that guard, in the same uniform goes on duty every night. Nothing is ever abolished, nothing ever changed. On the anniversary of King Charles's execution, his statue in Trafalgar Square is covered with flowers. Every month, too, new books appear about the mistresses of old kings---as if they, too, were of more than usual interest: I mean serious, historical books. From the King's palace to the humblest house I've been in, there are pictures of kings and queens. In every house, too (to show how nothing ever changes), the towels are folded in the same peculiar way. In every grate in the kingdom the coal fire is laid in precisely the same way. There is not a salesman in any shop on Piccadilly who does not, in the season, wear a long-tail coat. Everywhere they say a second grace at dinner---not at the end---but before the dessert, because two hundred years ago they dared not wait longer lest the parson be under the table: the grace is said to-day before dessert! I tried three months to persuade my "Boots" to leave off blacking the soles of my shoes under the instep. He simply couldn't do it. Every "Boots" in the Kingdom does it. A man of learning had an article in an afternoon paper a few weeks ago which began thus: "It is now universally conceded by the French and the Americans that the decimal system is a failure," and he went on to concoct a scheme for our money that would be more "rational" and "historical." In this hot debate about Ulster a frequent phrase used is, "Let us see if we can't find the right formula to solve the difficulty"; their whole lives are formulas. Now may not all the honours and garters and thistles and O. M.'s and K. C. B.'s and all manner of gaudy sinecures be secure, only because they can't abolish anything? My servants sit at table in a certain order, and Mrs. Page's maid wouldn't yield her precedence to a mere housemaid for any mortal consideration---any more than a royal person of a certain rank would yield to one of a lower rank. A real democracy is as far off as doomsday. So you argue, till you remember that it is these same people who made human liberty possible---to a degree---and till you sit day after day and hear them in the House of Commons, mercilessly pounding one another. Then you are puzzled. Do they keep all these outworn things because they are incapable of changing anything, or do these outworn burdens keep them from becoming able to change anything? I daresay it works both ways. Every venerable ruin, every outworn custom, makes the King more secure; and the King gives veneration to every ruin and keeps respect for every outworn custom.
Praise God for the Atlantic Ocean! It is the geographical foundation of our liberties. Yet, as I've often written, there are men here, real men, ruling men, mighty men, and a vigorous stock.
A civilization, especially an old civilization, isn't an easy nut to crack. But I notice that the men of vision keep their thought on us. They never forget that we are 100 million strong and that we dare do new things; and they dearly love to ask questions about---Rockefeller! Our power, our adaptability, our potential wealth they never forget. They'll hold fast to our favour for reasons of prudence as well as for reasons of kinship. And, whenever we choose to assume the leadership of the world, they'll grant it---gradually---and follow loyally. They cannot become French, and they dislike the Germans. They must keep in our boat for safety as well as for comfort.
WALTER H. PAGE.
The following extracts are made from other letters written at this time:
. . . To-night I had a long talk with the Duchess of X, a kindly woman who spends much time and money in the most helpful "uplift" work; that's the kind of woman she is.
Now she and the Duke are invited to dine at the French Ambassador's to-morrow night. "If the Duke went into any house where there was any member of this Government," said she, "he'd turn and walk out again. We thought we'd better find out who the French Ambassador's guests are. We didn't wish to ask him nor to have correspondence about it. Therefore the Duke sent his Secretary quietly to ask the Ambassador's Secretary---before we accepted."
This is now a common occurrence. We had Sir Edward Grey to dinner a little while ago and we had to make sure we had no Tory guests that night.
This same Duchess of X sat in the Peeresses' gallery of the House of Lords to-night till 7 o'clock. "I had to sit in plain sight of the wives of two members of the Cabinet and of the wife and daughter of the Prime Minister. I used to know them," she said, "and it was embarrassing."
Thus the revolution proceeds. For that's what it is.
. . . On the other hand the existing order is the most skilfully devised machinery for perpetuating itself that has ever grown up among civilized men. Did you ever see a London directory? It hasn't names alphabetically; but one section is "Tradesmen," another "The City," etc., etc., and another "The Court." Any one who has ever been presented at Court is in the "Court" section, and you must sometimes look in several sections to find a man. Yet everybody so values these distinctions that nobody complains of the inconvenience. When the Liberal party makes Liberals Peers in order to have Liberals in the House of Lords, lo! they soon turn Conservative after they get there. The system perpetuates itself and stifles the natural desire for change that most men in a state of nature instinctively desire in order to assert their own personalities. . . .
. . . All this social life which engages us at this particular season, sets a man to thinking. The mass of the people are very slow---almost dull; and the privileged are most firmly entrenched. The really alert people are the aristocracy. They see the drift of events. "What is the pleasantest part of your country to live in?" Dowager Lady X asked me on Sunday, more than half in earnest. "My husband's ancestors sat in the House of Lords for six hundred years. My son sits there now---a dummy. They have taken all power from the Lords; they are taxing us out of our lands; they are saying the monarchy for destruction last. England is of the past-all is going. God knows what is coming."
. . . And presently the presentations come. Lord! how sensible American women scramble for this privilege! It royally fits a few of them. Well, I've made some rules about presentations myself, since it's really a sort of personal perquisite of the Ambassador. One rule is, I don't present any but handsome women. Pretty girls: that's what you want when you are getting up a show. Far too many of ours come here and marry Englishmen. I think I shall make another rule and exact a promise that after presentation they shall go home. But the American women do enliven London. . . .
That triumph with the tariff is historic. I wrote to the President: "Score one!" And I have been telling the London writers on big subjects, notably the editor of the Economist, that this event, so quiet and undramatic, will mark a new epoch in the trade history of the world. . . This island is a good breeding place for men whose children find themselves and develop into real men in freer lands. All that is needed to show the whole world that the future is ours is just this sort of an act of self-confidence. You know the old story of the Negro who saw a ghost---"Git outen de way, Mr. Rabbit, and let somebody come who kin run!" Score one! We're making History, and these people here know it. The trade of the world, or as much of it as is profitable, we may take as we will. The over-taxed, under-productive, army-burdened men of the Old World---alas! I read a settled melancholy in much of their statesmanship and in more of their literature. The most cheerful men in official life here are the High Commissioners of Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and such fellows who know what the English race is doing and can do freed from uniforms and heavy taxes and class feeling and such like. . . .
. . . The two things that this island has of eternal value are its gardens and its men. Nature sprinkles it almost every day and holds its moisture down so that every inch of it is forever green; and somehow men thrive as the lawns do---the most excellent of all races for progenitors. You and I(<A NAME="n33"></A><A HREF="Pagenotes.htm#33">33</A>) can never be thankful enough that our ancestors came of this stock. Even those that have stayed have cut a wide swath, and they wield good scythes yet. But I have moods when I pity them---for their dependence, for instance, on a navy (2 keels to 1) for their very bread and meat. They frantically resent conveniences. They build their great law court building (the architecture ecclesiastical) so as to provide an entrance hall of imposing proportions which they use once a year; and to get this fine hall they have to make their court rooms, which they must use all the time, dark and small and inaccessible. They think as much of that once-a-year ceremony of opening their courts as they think of the even justice that they dispense; somehow they feel that the justice depends on the ceremony.
This moss that has grown all over their lives (some of it very pretty and most of it very comfortable-it's soft and warm) is of no great consequence---except that they think they'd die if it were removed. And this state of mind gives us a good key to their character and habits.
What are we going to do with this England and this Empire, presently, when economic forces unmistakably put the leadership of the race in our hands? How can we lead it and use it for the highest purposes of the world and of democracy? We can do what we like if we go about it heartily and with good manners (any man prefers to yield to a gentleman rather than to a rustic) and throw away---gradually---our isolating fears and alternate boasting and bashfulness. "What do we most need to learn from you?" I asked a gentle and bejewelled nobleman the other Sunday, in a country garden that invited confidences. "If I may speak without offence, modesty." A commoner in the company, who had seen the Rocky Mountains, laughed, and said: "No; see your chance and take it: that's what we did in the years when we made the world's history." . . .
- Mr. Irwin Laughlin, first secretary of the American Embassy in London.
- In about a year Page moved the Chancery to the present satisfactory quarters at No. 4 Grosvenor Gardens.
- Mrs. Walter H. Page.
- Katharine A. Page, the Ambassador's daughter.
- "Effendi" is the name by which Mr. F. N. Doubleday, Page's partner, is known to his intimates. It is obviously suggested by the initials of his name.